Fact Check: Was 'TRUMP' Carved Into a Manatee in Florida?

An image of a manatee in North Florida's Homosassa River has set off a wave of shock throughout Twitter. It shows a manatee, or sea cow, with the word "TRUMP" on its back.

Manatees are considered a threatened species with an estimated population of 13,000, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Though photos and videos have been shared across social media, there has been debate over whether the perpetrators carved "TRUMP" into the manatee's skin or wrote the word in algae on the animal's back.

The Claim

The Blue Planet Society was one of many posters outraged at the apparent carving of the manatee's back.

In any other year this would be hard to believe: Federal officials searching for person who carved 'Trump' into the back of a manatee https://t.co/38HgZDINbB

— Blue Planet Society (@Seasaver) January 11, 2021

Also outraged by the harassment of the manatee, carving or not, was March For Our Lives co-founder and board member David Hogg, who was one of the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.

I am beyond words at this point 😡https://t.co/cyJNHAr9QT

— David Hogg 📢 (@davidhogg111) January 12, 2021

In another tweet, someone claimed that "TRUMP" was written in the black algae on the manatee and that "the people claiming this is abuse hate Trump."

1. The “carving” of “Trump” is into black algae not the manatee’s skin

2. The manatee stayed still long enough for someone to do it.

3. Manatees are actually drawn to humans and are friendly.

4. The people claiming this is abuse hate Trump. pic.twitter.com/JS9OQF66gp

— Leather&Lace (@YourLeatherLace) January 12, 2021

There also was concern about the extent of harm done to the manatee during the incident.

It's inaccurate though, and upsetting a lot of people think the manatee was injured by having letters "carved" into its skin

This was just scraping off some of the algae on its back, not hurting it

Still illegal to mess with manatees, but not cruelty

— KellyInMadison (@KellyInMadison1) January 11, 2021

The Facts

Multiple news outlets have reported on the incident.

According to the Washington Post, the manatee was discovered Sunday by a woman named Hailey Warrington who was operating a manatee boat tour. Warrington told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that she took photos and videos of the manatee, who was sleeping at the time, and sent them to local law enforcement.

The Hill, BBC and the New York Times reported that the writing was scrawled into the algae growing on the manatee's back as opposed to carved into its body. Manatees swim so slowly that it is common for algae and barnacles to grow on their bodies, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Center for Biological Diversity stated in a press release on January 11 that it is offering a $5,000 reward for information regarding the incident.

Manatees aren't billboards, and people shouldn't be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason. However this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it's a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity

"Manatees aren't billboards, and people shouldn't be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason," Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the center, said in the release. "However this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it's a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws."

The release also states that, "harassment of a manatee is a federal criminal offense punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to one year in prison."

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, manatees are protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states, "It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee."

On the state level, "anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days."

In November, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a Florida boat captain who poked a manatee with a fishing pole and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service.

You’re not even allowed to touch manatees. I think the discussion about how injured this one is kind of misses the point.

— David Steen, Ph.D. (@AlongsideWild) January 12, 2021

Though reports confirm that "TRUMP" was written in algae and not into the manatee's skin, there still is the question of whether the act could have caused serious harm.

To follow up on this horrible act--yes, some of it may be displaced algae, but experts are divided w/o close examination on extent of harm. There is also the defilement that people are reacting to and the stress on the animal. 1/3https://t.co/S11Cue0Bzb

— Jeff VanderMeer (@jeffvandermeer) January 12, 2021

"The perpetrators would have needed to hold the manatee captive for quite some time to neatly etch that word on the animal's back. It would most probably have been trying to escape this confinement," said Dr. Melanie McField, director of the Healthy Reefs Initiative at Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History.

"This capture was quite possibly very stressful for the animal....This bio-graffiti also appears to have been etched in the skin with some tool which hopefully did not penetrate the skin. Any accidental abrasion or cut could allow harmful bacteria or viruses from the canals and waterways to enter into the animal's bloodstream and make it sick."

Charles Underwood, supervisor of operations support and communications for the Florida Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), provided the following statement in an email to Newsweek.

"I am confirming that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating this matter. The manatee does not appear to be seriously injured as it seems that the word was written in algae on the animal's back."

Underwood also provided a statement from the director of USFWS, Aurelia Skipwith.

"West Indian manatees are essential members of the ecosystems in which they inhabit and are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act," Skipwith said.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of this incident and is working closely with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you have any information regarding this case, please call our wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 or email us at FWS_TIPS@FWS.GOV."

The Ruling


Evidence shows that "TRUMP" was not carved into the manatee's skin but written in the algae on its back. Officials are investigating the incident but do not believe the manatee was seriously injured. Still, harassment of a manatee is a state and federal crime.

“I’m usually on the phone at least twice a day with the key players and they’re on the phone with me," manager of rescue operations for the SeaWorld Rescue team Jon Peterson said, discussing coordination with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership. 2018© SeaWorld Parks
False: The claim is demonstrably false. Primary source evidence proves the claim to be false.
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